The term Coromuel primarily refers to the cooling westerly breeze that blows over La Paz, Baja California almost every afternoon. Its meteorological basis is straightforward. Waters of the Pacific Ocean are notably cooler than those of the Gulf of California on the other side of the peninsula, so a mild thermal low pressure develops regularly in the latter area. Frontal passage and tropical cyclones that might alter this pressure gradient are infrequent, and, most significantly, the area west and southwest of La Paz is the only place in the entire length of the peninsula where a mountain or upland spine does not impede the air flow. Coromuel is also a place name applied to a balneario or swimming resort on the little peninsula that extends north from La Paz and is just outside its somewhat polluted bay. The Coromuel blows right against it. The resort was well established when I first visited it in 1952, but the place name is probably only a decade or two older and clearly is named after the wind.
All the long-term residents of La Paz speak of the Coromuel, and it is a significant amenity in their environment. Even in summer when all other coastal places on the Gulf of California swelter in stifling heat and humidity the La Paz climate is tolerable and attractive to tourists who exploit the fishing opportunities of the Gulf. There is also widespread agreement that Coromuel is a hispanicization of the English name Cromwell. The fanciful stories of how the name was implanted in Baja California are more varied.
One was made into a radio feature on "Bob Ferris News," KNX, December 5, 1955. He obtained it from the Ruffo family, important and well established merchants in La Paz. The great and clever English pirate Cromwell lay hidden in the Bay of La Paz and used the regular wind to sally forth to the Cape to attack laden Manila galleons as they sailed by. He claimed several prizes and buried treasure somewhere in the sands around the bay. A final feature is that early in this century a great chubasco or tropical cyclone altered the character of the bay, obliterating all landmarks and losing the treasure forever. Other tales have Cromwell becalmed in the bay and being threatened from land and sea by Spanish forces. The afternoon wind permitted him to get out through the narrow channel and elude his pursuers in the darkness. The investigative journalist Fernando Jordan in El Otro Mexico (1951) obtained from old residents the story that the name comes from the sailing vessel Cromwell which used it as a stern wind to exit the bay. No date is given and no one has found a record of a ship named Cromwell in those waters.
Among the scores of English pirates and privateers identified by Peter Gerhard in Pirates on the West Coast of New Spain 1575-1742 the name Cromwell does not appear at all. One suspects, though I have found no documentation for it, that the reference is to Oliver Cromwell. In actuality Cromwell never left the British Isles, but during his rule in the mid-seventeenth century Britain was particularly active in interfering with Spanish shipping and in making incursions in Spanish territories around the Caribbean. That the British leader should become the English pirate incarnate to colonial officials and mariners attempting to defend the long Pacific Coast of the Spanish Empire is not unreasonable. This extended poorly defended frontier, with slow and interrupted overland communications and sea travel often actually blocked by real pirates, was repeatedly swept by rumors of buccaneering raids that were completely fictitious, probably with fictitious captains.
Furthermore, in the 16th and twice in the 18th centuries English privateers (Spaniards would have identified them as pirates), lying off the southern tip of Baja California, did intercept the Manila Galleon as it stayed close to shore en route to Acapulco. Twice they were successful. It is likely that the fearsome British leader became the bogeyman to Spanish mariners in the Pacific that Sir Francis Drake was in the previous century.
Documentation of the usage of Coromuel, however, has not been discovered from the 17th or 18th centuries. Permanent Spanish settlement of Baja California began with the Jesuit mission in 1697, and it was at Loreto, too far up the Gulf, an impoverished region, to be of interest to pirates. A mission was not established in La Paz until 1720. Nonetheless the Cape region of Baja California was not an unvisited country. Although unsuccessful, Cortez' attempt at settlement in the La Paz area in 1534-35 had obtained some pearls of high quality. Over the century and a half and more, licensed and unlicensed pearling expeditions worked the gulf Coast at least as far north as Latitude 28oN. Although crossing from Sinaloa in small boats was risky, small entrepreneurs who were willing to risk criminal penalties to avoid the royal quinta (20 percent tax) and the hassle of getting licensure were more numerous and regular visitors than the dozen official expeditions. The latter often had the mission of founding a permanent settlement but clearly focused their energies on getting pearls.
In addition, beginning with Thomas Cavendish at Cabo San Lucas in 1587, English and Dutch privateers and pirates in undetermined numbers used any embayment in the Cape region to take on water and wood and careen their ships, badly in need of such attention after the voyage around Cape Horn. Though Cabo San Lucas was the place from which to ambush the Manila Galleon, the protected Bay of La Paz was a favored place for careening ships. These foreigners must have interacted with the pearlers, and there were reported instances of their relieving them of their pearls. Less hostile interactions, especially with illegal pearl seekers, would not have been reported to Spanish authorities, but they would become part of the mariners' lore of the West Coast of New Spain. It is my conclusion that the Coromuel legend arose from these interactions.
As an aside it may be noted that the English and Dutch visitors consistently reported friendly receptions from the local Indians. They wanted peace and quiet to attend to their repairs and limited re-provisioning and could make minor gifts to the Indians. The pearlers, however, were concerned to induce or impress the Indians into the laborious and dangerous activity of diving for pearls. Spanish authorities and, especially after 1697, the missionaries regularly complained bitterly that abuses of the Indians were impeding missionization and making the latter hostile to Spaniards in general. The temporarily successful revolt by the Pericu in 1734 must have stemmed in part from this hostility.
The earliest written reference to Coromuel that has been found
is in the Los Angeles Star, June 6, 1857, p. 3/1: "At the
commencement of summer rain squalls gather about the mountain
A stranger reference comes from the French novelist Gustave Aimard. His adventure tales, mostly set on the American frontier were popular and most were translated into English with later editions abbreviated into dime novels. In The Freebooters (1861) Coromuel appears several times, but it has become a violent gusty storm wind, and the locale is shifted to the Texas Gulf Coast. This is far from La Paz, but Aimard had spent a youth collecting adventures which he would later use in his novels. One of his adventures involved participating in the filibustering expedition of Gaston Raoux Taousset de Boulbon who, simultaneously with William Walker in Baja California (1852), attempted to set up a state in Sonora and Sinaloa. Raousset de Boulbon was executed in Guaymas, but Aimard was finally freed. The exotically named wind probably picked up from Sinaloan pearlers, was inviting to use creatively in any dramatic context. He also invents an impossible hill fort on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Santamaria in his Diccionario General de Americanismos associates Coromuel with Baja California and derives it from the famous English pirate Cromwell. But he makes it the prevailing northwest wind that blows along the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to the Cape. This normally careful lexicographer evidently attempted to extrapolate rationally from fragmentary information.